Steve Betts, SVP & CIO, Health Care Service Corporation
The unprecedented level of change and unpredictability that we are experiencing within the healthcare industry shows no signs of slowing down. One of the key challenges for healthcare CIOs is understanding and meeting the needs of consumers by leveraging new technologies while continuing to protect patient and provider data. A core element of many strategies is the use of technology to help consumers navigate the complex healthcare ecosystem, ensuring the care providers have the right information at the right time to make the best choices for the patient health. To complicate matters, many healthcare companies have large-scale transactional systems that have been maintained for decades to support incremental new business requirements. This combination of a dynamically changing industry environment and inflexible IT platforms is driving the need for a fundamental transformation.
A Multi-Dimensional Transformation
Given the scale of the challenge, CIOs need to transform along multiple dimensions. They must create tighter alignment among business and IT teams, deliver new capabilities faster by increasing the velocity of delivery through agile methods, and new tools and processes, modernize technology platforms, enhance cybersecurity capabilities, and finally and most importantly, cultivate the kind of talent that can make this a reality.
The Importance of IT and Business Aligned Teams: IT Must ‘Be the Business’
With the healthcare landscape shifting so quickly, it is essential to matrix IT employees across key business functions. This enables the IT team to “Be the Business” by removing silos and creating a collaborative environment in which teams can work together on solutions. Doing this allows IT employees to understand business priorities, jointly develop strategy, and partner with business colleagues to deliver solutions with support from enterprise IT functions.
Delivering New Capabilities Faster
We also need to deliver new capabilities to the market more quickly. At Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) we have moved to a tri-modal development approach, which incorporates “optimized” waterfall, scrum and extreme programming. This enables us to match the development approach with nature of the capabilities needed. For example, we have implemented extreme programming for our consumer-facing applications, which helps consumers manage their healthcare in one place. They can find providers, make appointments and view recent claim data with just a few taps. Our teams have moved from four big releases per year to a continuous delivery and integration ability, which is crucial to responding in a rapidly changing market.
Dynamically changing industry environment and inflexible it platforms is driving the need for a fundamental transformation
This dynamic delivery model enables the team to take direct feedback from our consumers and reprioritize our work based on the most urgent needs, pushing releases to multiple times per day if necessary.
Modernizing Technology and Enhancing Cybersecurity
Many systems developed in healthcare over the last several decades were not built to support current technological requirements. Many systems have been incrementally updated, leading to increased complexity over time and a lack of flexibility.
This challenge drove us to introduce a future state architecture that serves as our guiding principle when making technology decisions for specific projects. Modernizing our core platforms is one of our top priorities and the importance of IT architecture has become a board level discussion.
One example of the modernization is the deployment of Platform-as-a- Service (PaaS) capability. PaaS has provided the agility and flexibility needed to support the rapid pace of change. Additionally, a robust Application Programming Interface (API) strategy has enabled our IT teams to work quickly, reducing development work from months to weeks and even days.
At the same time, the threat to cybersecurity has dramatically increased. Protecting data, particularly personal health care data, has become even more critical. Moving past the use of conventional security logging and monitoring technologies towards a more dynamic, real-time protection and defense capability allows for the swift identification of cyber threats and a strong response to them. A key element of cyber defense is the development of a security “big data lake” to enable rich data analysis for real-time investigations, continuous monitoring and rapid identification of threats within networks.
Building a Talent Engine for the Future
Developing a team that delivers on the promise of modern IT is one make-or-break factor of long-term success. Like a college sports coach, the CIO must be a magnet for fresh talent, taking recruitment as seriously as any other part of the job. And like a coach, the CIO must be focused on skill-building and training, helping the players already in the team to sharpen their skills and develop deeper expertise.
The power of purpose is also critical to an IT team. As a member-owned company, HCSC is deeply connected to our purpose, which is to do everything in our power to stand by our members in sickness and in health. Passion for our purpose has been the key ingredient in building teams that are challenged, engaged and inspired to find ways to streamline processes, develop innovative ideas, and identify creative solutions that ultimately benefit our customers and members.
By undertaking a broad transformation such as ours, CIOs will position their teams to anticipate the needs of their customer. For those in the healthcare industry, this strategy can help prioritize work around meeting the demands of the customer— providing vital information, and easy accessibility, so they can make the best health decisions for themselves and their families.
Transformation, in the context of our modern environment, is a never-ending endeavor. There are numerous ground-breaking technologies on the horizon that could have a major impact on our industry. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are poised to shift the healthcare landscape once again. Technology leaders must now determine how to turn promise into reality and create data-driven outcomes that positively affect the industry. The implementation of these new technologies can create significant and positive change using new efficiencies, processes and automations, paving the way toward better results for our customers, providers, and partners. At HCSC, we are working to drive better health outcomes for our members and cost savings for our customers.